By Mushtaq Soofi

Date: September 19, 2022 

You are better placed to compose poetry if you happen to know common ailments as well as maladies that afflict the soul.

The usual tendency is to treat the physical and the spiritual as two distinctly separate entities yet mysteriously connected. But how the two are connected is the problem. To solve the riddle perhaps it’s necessary to go beyond the binary of body and soul handed down by tradition. In simple words can we imagine soul without body or body without soul?

A body needs to have soul as much as soul needs to have a body. Soulless body would be a chimera and soul without body an apparition. Strangely, in real life things are different; soulless bodies are far greater in number than bodies with souls.

Lucky are the individuals who have bodies and soul intact and in harmony, and Dr. Mahmood Nasir Malik is one among them. He is a highly experienced professor of medicine with education from Nishtar Medical College, Multan and UK. He has been associated and still is with some of the major public hospitals in Lahore for the last three decades. Besides working as a competent and compassionate doctor he is also a highly refined poet as is evidenced by his book of verses titled Badal Jhuktay Paani Par published by Zavia Publishers, Lahore. Dr. Nasir also paints and does calligraphy.

Poetry seems to be Dr. Nasir’s love first as he has been into it since his college days. The book has two sections; Ghazal (a traditional popular genre consisting of two liners of indefinite number of units) and modern poems. He has equal facility in both. His poetic vision seems to be underpinned by three distinct elements: aesthetics, spiritual exploration and awareness of time as measurement of movement. His aesthetic outlook is shaped by nature and its phenomena as experienced by a sensitive mind surrounded by landscapes dotted with multiple forms of life: “The evening looks like a dream / so look the fireflies / the birds are so many dreams/ so is the tree.”

In another Ghazal he says: “The river flows over the sands and the boat floats on the river / clouds kneel over water! What do they whisper? /the river goes on writing what the water goes through.”

Nature is mysterious and what it expresses is invisibly connected with something other than what it apparently expresses. Have you thought how rain drops are connected with seas? Evaporation from seas turns into clouds and clouds turn into rains. Rains turn into ice. Ice melts and turns into water that rushes into seas to become evaporation again. Such ever-present phenomena create sense of wonder that leads to the discovery of heavenly presence in things mundane which look so because of one’s frequent encounter with them. Consequently the desire drives one to experience the other side of the mundanity. “Bless me with sight of what lies beyond the paths / bless me with ingenuity and what sustains it / my days’ bough have been waiting since ages / let it have blooms in some season.”

Dr. Nasir Malik is aware of flow of time and its effects on his mind and imagination. “What did I sow in heart’s soil? /the fruit is all sorrow / the birds have flown away / the tree is all sorrow.” In a short poem he subtly hints at the loss time inflicts on an individual: “I myself am a dying day on my shoulders /my journey spans a flourish of blood running in my vessels/ I weave desires all the day / and before going to sleep I stitch attire but the longing to don it wavers in the next morning’s hands.”

Dr. Nasir thinks in the language of images that carries elusive magic. He appears to be an aesthete and a spiritualist. His aesthetics laced with spirituality and spirituality with aesthetic. Grab his book if you care for joy of poetry.

Aakash, a young promising writer, makes his debut with a book of short stories Om Prem Kutiya published by Kitab Trinjan, Lahore. Aakash seems to be nom de plume of the author. The book contains 17 stories on diverse experiences born of rural and urban life. The stories set in countryside have force and vigour not frequently found in the stories we usually come across this side of the border. They are grounded in the historical reality of our village life but also carry the compelling quality of lived experience. His vision is broad but his main focus is on the unbearable sufferings of common folks carried from generation to generation in a social system that refuses to change. If it ever changes, it changes to the people’s disadvantage. The story Bar da Billa (A cat from the wild) forcefully displays how even a significant change in the life of low caste family negates the possible impact of change and retains not only the status quo but rather reinforces it pushing the family into deeper misery.

Aakash has an eye for detail that affords him a treasure of observations. Cultural nuances woven in the stories make them layered and create depth which lifts them to a remarkable creative level. Thus his narratives wrapped in cultural and anthropological details carry a force that is undeniably as overwhelming as the stark objective reality itself.

His Tandoor (Tandoori) is a remarkable story that can simply overwhelm you. The story recreates an eerily fascinating world of women around a traditional village tandoor that stands as a subtle metaphor for women’s life; the fire in the oven becomes indistinguishable from the fires that burn women daily as a result of gender oppression and discrimination. Another impactful story is Satt Nam vahey Guru that explores the anguish, angst and dislocation caused by poorly managed bloodied partition of Punjab. His stories with urban settings appear little less exciting as he seems to be tentative in his exploration of urban complexities. Perhaps he needs greater exposure to urban life. Aakash’s strength lies in his ability to choose the characters who are mostly from the wretched of the earth or simply outcasts. Seeing the world from their perspective is what imparts immediacy to his narratives. His book is a highly rewarding read both in the cultural and social sense. He may be able to join the club of our leading fiction writers if he continues his literary practice. —